There was a question in the mailbag yesterday that asked how you can fix the Oilers without the use of a time machine to prevent Peter Chiarelli from making a series of inadvisable trades.
I kind of flippantly said, “You can’t without blowing it up,” which seems like the only reasonable answer here. But the more I thought about it, and obviously kept in mind the idea that no one in Edmonton will have the will or patience for another year or two even resembling a rebuild (especially not with Connor McDavid soon to cost $12.5 million against the cap), the more I was intrigued.
Chiarelli may or may not be long for the GM’s office in that shiny new rink, prematurely built to herald the arrival of McDavid and the Oilers on the league stage, but whether it’s him or someone else, the mandate will be clear: You gotta fix this, and you probably can’t trade anyone.
(I should say, by the way, that I don’t think the Oilers are as bad as their record indicates, but they’re supposed to be elite or pretty close to it, and they’re not nearly that good either.)
So that leads me to look at the Oilers’ CapFriendly page and just kinda scratch my head. The cap is probably going to go up sharply next year, to more than $80 million from the current $75 million by some estimates. And yet, despite that luxury for just about every team in the league, Edmonton has already committed nearly $61 million to just 13 — THIRTEEN! — players.
McDavid and Leon Draisaitl make up more than one-third of that number by themselves. Another $12million goes to Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (having a bit of a revelatory season in the face of all that trade talk) and Milan Lucic (not so much with the revelatory season). Add in another $1.95 million for Zack Kassian, the final year of Jesse Puljujarvi’s ELC at $925,000, and Jujhar Khaira at $675,000.
That’s $36.55 million committed to just seven forwards, maybe three of whom are legitimate top-six guys. Nice to be set up down the middle with McDavid, Draisaitl, and Nugent-Hopkins, but that does kinda illustrate the extent to which Chiarelli has hamstrung the Oilers’ wing depth. Taylor Hall and Jordan Eberle are gone for good, traded for reasons you can kinda understand if you twist the logic up a little bit.
Some wingers who will be RFAs this summer: Ryan Strome, Anton Slepyshev, and Drake Caggiula. One expects none of those guys will be looking at any kind of substantial raise, so let’s call it another $6 million from the current combined cost of $4.35 million. These are guys you probably can’t trade for anything to help improve the team in the here and now (unless it’s part of a package, but we’ll get to that in a second).
That gets you to 10 forwards for $42.55 million. Add in the likelihood of Kailer Yamamoto making the team as a rookie, and it’s 11 forwards at about $43.5 million.
After that, you need to consider whether you re-sign any of the outgoing UFAs: Mark Letestu, Patrick Maroon, and Mike Cammalleri. The first two guys can stick around, if you ask me, but they can’t make a whole lot more than their current combined $3.3 million. Call it $4.5 million for the two of them? That puts you at 13 forwards for $48 million.
But in terms of inflexibility, the real problem for the Oilers isn’t up front. Andrej Sekera, Oscar Klefbom, Adam Larsson, and Kris Russell are signed for a combined $17.83 million. Doubtful that any of those contracts are moveable, or that you would want to move either of the guys who are (Klefbom and maybe Larsson).
Plus you need to re-sign RFAs Brandon Davidson, Matt Benning, and Darnell Nurse, who are a combined bargain right now at slightly more than $3.2 million. They will probably get raises bringing their cap hits to $8 million at least. The good news is, that’s your whole D corps signed for less than $26 million. The bad news is, that Oilers blue line isn’t going to be particularly competitive with any actual elite teams in the Western Conference.
Nonetheless, that’s a combined $71-plus million for a not-great forward and D corps with very little help coming in from the farm system.
In net, y’know, what do you want from Cam Talbot, who has been ground into dust the last two seasons? He’s up to 107 appearances — not including the playoffs — in a season and a half, because as usual, Chiarelli has no plan in place for a backup of any kind. Let’s say he goes and gets one this summer because he doesn’t think Nick Ellis or Laurent Brossoit (both pending RFAs) are ready to be NHLers. An NHL backup probably costs you about $1.2 million or so. Let’s say it’s just $1 million, though.
That bumps Edmonton’s salary obligations to about $74.5 million. It theoretically gives them $5.5 million in cap space to play with, but if you’re an upper-mid-market UFA, do you want to get involved in this mess? Likewise, if you’re the Oilers, what pending UFA can you snag for, say, $4.5 million or even $5 million, to push Khaira or Slepyshev out of the lineup?
Given that the Oilers’ need and flexibility is clearly on the wing, let’s have a look at pending UFA wingers who might be in that price range. Josh Bailey or Evander Kane? They’ll want more than that based on their seasons so far. James van Riemsdyk is probably in that same boat. James Neal? Maybe but wouldn’t he re-sign with Vegas, or wouldn’t he require too many years as an over-30 guy to make that kinda deal advisable? Maybe old friend Andrew Cogliano could be enticed back to town, but he’s also over 30 and not having a great year.
Patrick Hornqvist? Michael Grabner? I’m just spitballing here, but none of these seem like particularly attractive options.
So that means it’s time for Chiarelli or his replacement to mine the trade market (and if it’s somehow still Chiarelli, well, that doesn’t have the best history of going well). And let’s just say here and now that trading Nugent-Hopkins is and should be a non-starter.
What, realistically, do the Oilers have to offer to get, say, the Milan Lucic contract off their books through 2023? Probably have to retain some salary on that deal, first of all. Then include someone like Puljujarvi or Yamamoto, maybe Tyler Benson up front, or William Lagesson or even Darnell Nurse at the back. That’s just to make it worth someone’s while. There’s no telling who you get back in a situation like that, but if he’s viewed as being a lesser or comparable player to Lucic, then you’re counting on Chiarelli or the new guy to find a market inefficiency and exploit it. That’s a non-starter with Chiarelli, who himself is walking market inefficiency, and a total wild card with a theoretical new guy.
The same logic applies, albeit at a slightly lower level, if you’re talking about a Kris Russell trade. And while Talbot is in the last year of his contract, his trade value right now is probably not that great.
Believe me when I tell you I’ve looked at this a whole lot of ways here — buyouts, letting RFAs and UFAs walk, a huge Draisaitl trade of some kind, etc. — and there’s no answer that both seems reasonable and makes the Oilers better.
So to reiterate: I don’t know how you fix this team, and I bet the guy whose job it is to do that isn’t going to have a good time pushing that boulder up the hill.
Then again, as I said in the mailbag, maybe they win the draft lottery and take Rasmus Dahlin. The GM who could do that would be a genius.
All statistics via Corsica unless otherwise noted.